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New Covenant Church: A Crucible of Ministry Leadership Development

New Covenant Church: A Crucible of Ministry Leadership Development

New Covenant Church of Philadelphia has 3,500 members. About 400 of the members are in positions of leadership or leadership-in-training, with 56 of these on staff. How does the church generate this remarkable level of leadership?

In the mid-1990s, about a dozen years after its founding, the leadership of New Covenant felt the church had become static. In 1996, they accepted a new visionary challenge based on Isaiah 54:23: to rebuild communities all around Philadelphia. The first crucial step, they saw, was to develop strong lay leaders, as the foundation necessary to keep the church's ministries going in a period of expansion. In a leadership retreat, they were guided by the Holy Spirit to develop a system of leadership development based on small groups. New Covenant's small groups, called NetCare, for years had been primarily oriented towards church members. With the church's growing emphasis on outreach, the focus shifted to "how to empower people to go forth to take the good news of the Gospel to those they meet," says Laronda, a NetCare leader (not her real name).

Laronda's story is typical of New Covenant leadership. After she began attending, a ministry leader encouraged her to pursue membership in the church and come into leadership. "You need to do something," he told her. "You don't just come [to church] and sit." She started serving with NetCare as an assistant music leader and "worked her way up," becoming a coordinator and eventually a zone minister as supervisors recognized her gifts of leadership. Her zeal for the church's holistic vision sustains her commitment despite living forty-five minutes from the church and working full-time in another job. "We have found our passion," she says. "It has been satisfied at New Covenant."

NetCare has proven an excellent vehicle for leadership development. The small groups provide opportunities for skill development in a structured, supervised context. A well-defined, structured leadership ladder encourages people to advance in degrees of responsibility and supervision. NetCare groups are organized geographically by "zone." The structure of authority flows from the pastors, to two zone overseers (church elders), to four zone ministers, to NetCare group leadership. Most leadership positions at the upper levels are occupied by a married couple, which strengthens the family as well as the position.

Within each NetCare group, leadership is shared by a team with clearly-defined roles. The positions carry different levels of responsibility, so that people with minimal leadership experience can start their involvement by taking on very basic assignments, such as being in charge of the music or the refreshments. The tasks assigned to each leader are not too burdensome, yet are sufficient for developing accountability. The first time the group meets in a new house, the leadership team visits and prays over the home prior to the meeting. The leadership team cleans the host's house after each meeting. Each leader has an assistant, chosen by the leadership team, so that when the group gets large enough to multiply, they already have leaders in place.

NetCare leaders meet with their overseeing minister at least once a month. NetCare leaders and other church leaders are also supported by monthly leadership breakfasts and Bible studies (attended by about 400 people!), led by the pastoral staff. Prospective ministry leaders must attend at least two of these meetings before taking on solo responsibilities. Bishop Grannum also teaches periodic leadership conferences and seminars, which not only impart leadership skills but shape a consensus of purpose. Leadership seminars develop leaders' theology and help them keep focused on their underlying mission, beyond their day-to-day tasks.

The fundamental role of NetCare leaders, Laronda says, is to "build relationships that will edify and will change lives for the good and for the glory of God." New Covenant's deliberate, disciplined system for leadership development equips people with both the skills and the passion to fulfill the church's mission: "to touch Philadelphia and the world by reaching and empowering individuals to fulfill God's victorious and prosperous plan for their lives, for their families, and for their communities, through the Lord Jesus Christ."

[chap. 9, pp. 202-203]